6 Nov 2014

The secret diary of an alcoholic

Adrian Kelly has been sober for nearly two years after battling an alcohol addiction that nearly killed him. Memories are hazy, but his drinking diaries reveal the extent of his illness at its worst.

When he used to do the weekly Asda shop with his now ex-wife, there would always be a bottle of whiskey in the trolley. But, somewhere along the line, Mr Kelly realised that this weekly stash had doubled from one bottle to two, plus drinks while out socialising with friends or family.

Then when he retired in 2006, Mr Kelly’s drinking escalated even more and, at his worst, he was on a litre bottle of whiskey per day.

It is hard to remember the details but this daily dose is meticulously written down in tiny figures in the drinking diaries he has been keeping off and on for the last 10 years.

“This is a record. An attempt to assess how much I was actually drinking,” he says. “Diaries just serve as a reminder because they illustrate to me how bad I was. I have found it pertinent to try and understand my own history.”

Adrian Kelly, now 68, is one of a growing number of elderly alcoholics, many of whom have slipped under the radar of health professionals.

Hospital admissions due to alcohol abuse are on the rise and deaths related to excessive alcohol consumption among the over-75s have risen to their highest level since records began in 1991, according to the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures released in February.

“Whilst the spotlight on excessive drinking generally falls on younger people, the most significant increases in alcohol related harm are actually in older age groups, with people aged 65 and over also reporting the highest rates of drinking on five or more days a week,” said Age UK’s Caroline Abrahams at the time.

Tune into Channel 4 News at 7pm for a special report on Britain's ageing alcoholics

Mr Kelly first sought help from his GP in 2002 and, although he received advice, he didn’t receive treatment until 10 years later.

His doctor advised measuring how much he was drinking by filling up the same glass and noting down how many times it was emptied. “I thought at the time, ‘who uses a glass? You just take the top off, and you pour it down your throat’,” he says. “I can look back on it and laugh. But that’s what he actually said.”

However, another piece of advice hit home – document your drinking. He didn’t do it every day and he went through months without writing anything. But, over the course of the next 10 years, Mr Kelly started to compile his daily dose – or count what was in the recycling bin every two weeks.

One date that sticks out for him is 3 February, 2012. Mr Kelly had pulled out of a round of golf feeling sick and was admitted to hospital that afternoon for eight days because of a heart condition.

“The very day before this heart problem, I’ve actually counted up how much I’ve thrown away,” he says. The diary contains a record of what was in the recycling bin: 20 half bottles of whiskey, five full bottles and a 50cl bottle for two weeks.

This was when his health was seriously deteriorating. After giving up work, alcohol became an obsession.

“I just couldn’t go out of the house without having had a drink,” he says. “I used to drink through the night, I used to drink first thing in the morning, the bottle was on the floor – I didn’t even put bottle on my bedside cabinet, I put it between the bed and the cabinet so no-one could see it. The fact (is) there was no one to see it.”

Read more: over 60s drink twice as often as the under 30s, exclusive Channel 4 News poll reveals

‘Economy of the truth’

His stack of weekly diaries is littered with small pen marks, often in red ink, in many of the corners detailing how much he had drunk.

It was quite often filled in the morning after, or sometimes before he went to bed. And Mr Kelly is the first to admit it isn’t always accurate.

“This (pictured left) is rather typical of the way I used it at this time,” he says of the summer of 2012.

“This is where you find, probably, economy of the truth,” he added.

“This is not a true measure. This is what I call eyeballing – hold it up to the light and guess. That would have been underestimating.”

Whiskey was Mr Kelly’s drink of choice and he estimated units by gauging how much was gone from a bottle and adding pints of beer drunk with friends along the way.

Another page of the diary (right) records the day of a family barbeque. “We’ve had a barbeque in the afternoon… I would never have drunk whiskey with my sons,” he said. “This is telling me, I think it says three units with Si (his son), five units later at home.

“This is supposedly the total of the day – eight units. Supposedly.”

Mr Kelly says the diaries now help to remind him of how bad things got. In the run up to a detox, many alcoholics start to increase their consumption, seeing it as their last chance and he says he can trace his descent.

‘Mood diary’

In April 2012, it was also suggested that he start a “mood diary” of sorts alongside the drinking, in which he measured his mood out of 10.

The week beginning 16 April 2012 (pictured above) puts his mood at six out ten, and alcohol intake at 20 units – the equivalent of around nine pints of beer, or a half litre bottle of whiskey. He kept it going for 12 days, during which the mood scores ranged from four to seven and the units consumed from 12 to 20 units per day.

He says it didn’t work. “Given the pathetic state I was in at the time, assessment and ‘scoring’ of mood was next to impossible. When you feel like you’re constantly in the s**t, then you’re in it every day – only the depth varies.”

It wasn’t until he started his detox at the end of November 2012 that Mr Kelly was able to stop altogether. He is coming up to his two-year anniversary and is still coming to terms with what happened.

Along with the support of his ex-wife, two sons and two best friends, Mr Kelly says he has music to thank for sustaining his recovery. He bought a ukelele at the beginning of his detox and hasn’t looked back, joining a local band and spending his days practising.

And, if he ever needs reminding of how bad things got, he only has to look at his diaries.